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Islamic extremists ‘plottedchemical attack in France’


PARIS, Jan 12 (AFP) – Six suspected Islamic extremists, including the imam of a Lyon mosque, were due to appear before anti-terrorist judges here Monday, amid allegations they knew about plans for a chemical attack in France in 2002.

Chellali Benchellali, an imam in the Lyon suburb of Venissieux, his wife Hafsa, his son Hafed and two others were detained last week in a series of raids near the eastern city. The sixth suspect was detained southeast of Paris.

They were taken into custody as part of a 2002 probe ordered by Paris anti-terrorist judges into a so-called “Chechen network” of Islamic radicals with links to al-Qaeda who allegedly underwent terror training at camps in the separatist Russian republic of Chechnya and in Georgia in 2000 and 2001.

French police said that questioning of the suspects since their arrest on January 6 has revealed that another of Benchellali’s sons, Menad, was seeking to produce “highly toxic” substances such as ricin or a botulism toxin.

Ricin is a naturally-occurring toxin found in castor beans and is 6,000 times more powerful than cyanide. A speck no larger than a grain of salt is enough to kill an adult.

Menad Benchellali was detained in December 2002 when police smashed a network of suspected Islamic radicals in the northeast Paris suburbs. At the time, investigators were convinced they had thwarted a chemical attack against Russian targets on French soil.

According to statements made by the suspects taken into custody last week, he learned to handle and make poisons in Afghanistan and packaged his toxic products in jars of Nivea face cream or 70 cl flasks, police sources said.

The products were then given to a local pharmacist for safe-keeping, the French newspaper Le Monde reported at the weekend, quoting sources close to the investigation.

Le Monde said that during his interrogation, the imam admitted he knew of his son’s plans, while other family members said they had purchased chemicals for Menad Benchellali.

Police said other detainees had admitted to providing Menad Benchellali with logistical support, including false identity papers and funding.

French Justice Minister Dominique Perben on Monday hailed the country’s counter-intelligence service DST, saying it had “conducted a probe which, I think, allowed us to keep very dangerous people from doing any harm.”

French investigators are now looking into a possible link between the Benchellali family and the discovery of a small amount of ricin in a northeast London apartment in January 2003.

Chellali Benchellali is suspected of screening videotapes at his mosque aimed at recruiting fighters to join Chechen separatists in their war against Moscow. His son Mourad is one of six French nationals being held by US authorities at the military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The six suspects due in court Monday were expected to be placed under investigation. A total of eight people were initially detained in last week’s Lyon raids. Benchellali’s daughter Anissa and another suspect were released.


                                Subject: France news